Wobbegong is the common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks in the family Orectolobidae.

689886456

Wobbegong is the common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks in the family Orectolobidae.

Photo by: Giordano Cipriani

Giordano Cipriani

No, This Weird Shark Species is Not a Spongebob Character

By: Lucy Sherriff

Is it a lumpy carpet? A steamrolled toad? A character from Spongebob Squarepants? Nope, it’s the tasseled wobbegong shark.

February 07, 2022

This tasseled specimen is actually one of 12 species of wobbegong sharks, a name deriving from the Australian Aboriginal language meaning “shaggy beard”. The sharks are known as “carpet sharks” due to the ornate, symmetrical patterns on their bodies and multitude of colors.

Up until fairly recently, scientists found it impossible to differentiate between a small wobbegong species and a juvenile of a larger species, but thanks to DNA sequencing and other new technologies, they were able to identify 12 species, including the floral banded wobbegong and the dwarf spotted wobbegong.

Wobbegong is the common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks in the family Orectolobidae.

689871564

Wobbegong is the common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks in the family Orectolobidae.

Photo by: Giordano Cipriani

Giordano Cipriani

Wobbegong is the common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks in the family Orectolobidae.

They’re well camouflaged too, having small whisker lobes that act as sensory barbs. The tasseled wobbegong is perhaps the most infamous of all the species, thanks to its intricate, elaborately branched lobes.

The sharks are found in shallow, tropical waters, primarily around Australia and Indonesia, although one species - the aptly named Japanese wobbegong - can be found in Japan’s waters. They’re bottom-dwelling sharks, spending most of their time on the seabed, with most growing up to 4.1ft. The Japanese species, however, can reach a huge 9.8ft. The head of a wobbegong is amazingly wider across than it is long, helping it consume whatever prey it can fit inside its mouth – and sometimes even prey that it can’t.

The sharks eat all sorts of fishes – and occasionally other sharks too. In 2011, two scientists photographed a wobbegong eating a bamboo shark…whole. “During the 30-min observation period,” the scientists observed in a paper they released the following year, “neither shark moved position and the wobbegong did not further ingest the bamboo shark. We assume that it would have taken at least several more hours for the wobbegong to completely consume the bamboo shark.”

Swimming with pilot fish Raja Ampat

482925675

Wobbegong shark swimming with pilot fish.

Photo by: AHDesignConcepts

AHDesignConcepts

Wobbegong shark swimming with pilot fish.

The species’ ability to dislocate its jaw and sharp, rearward-pointing teeth mean wobbegongs can grasp prey that is relatively large compared to its body size, and swallow them whole. They’re mostly ambush predators, lying camouflaged in wait for smaller fish to swim too close. As far as sharks go, they are relatively lazy, staying stationary for hours at a time. In order to stay alive when they’re hanging out on the seafloor, they pump water over their gills using their cheek muscles in order to keep their blood oxygenated.

They’re not generally fished, but local populations have taken a hit in their numbers from accidental bycatch. Ocean scientists consider habitat loss of coral reefs to be more of a threat to the species, although current populations of the gulf wobbegong are thought to be largely stable – there are not enough data records to define any population trends for the other 11 species.

Although they are not considered dangerous to humans, there have been records of attacks on swimmers and scuba divers who have ventured too close to them, and although none have been fatal, they can be difficult to remove once they latch onto skin due to their teeth.

Next Up

Baby Sharks are in Hot Water

Climate change impacts everything. From rising ocean levels to record-breaking wildfires, we can see the changes occurring with our own eyes. One of the most resilient species of all time is the shark. Warming waters are challenging their ability to adapt, and one of the signs of the times is smaller baby sharks that are having a hard time surviving.

New Canadian Law is Great News for Mako Sharks

Canada has become the first North Atlantic country to put a longstanding recommendation from conservation scientists to protect Mako sharks into law.

The Shark Atoll of Palmyra

Palmyra Atoll is an uninhabited coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean that is part of a massive oceanic conservation area known as Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. It's vital to the health of our world's oceans and it's filled with sharks.

What Happens When a Great White Can’t Breach?

Fun fact on great whites who never get airborne.

Shark Flings Itself Out of Water to Avoid Becoming Orca’s Snack

A sevengill shark flings itself out of the water and onto rocks to avoid becoming an orca's meal.

New Walking Shark Species Discovered

A shark that walks, evolutionary conundrums, temperature changes, and tectonic shifts lead scientists to discover four new species of sharks.Watch Island of the Walking Sharks on Wednesday, July 27 at 8:00pm ET/PT on Discovery and stream it on discovery+.

Endangered Sharks of the World

Our world's oceans are continually challeged by pollution, overfishing, and climate change. This affects sharks just as much as it affects humans--if not more so. Read on to learn about some endangered sharks that need our help.

Great Mysteries of the Deep: How Sharks Find Their Way Home

How are sharks able to travel thousands of miles across the ocean and return to the same exact locations year after year? Last month, researchers found the answer to one of the greatest mysteries in the animal kingdom.

Deep-Sea Divers: Tiger Sharks of The Bahamas

Cutting-edge technology takes a team of scientists at Beneath the Waves (BTW) deeper than they’ve ever gone before by shedding new light on how tiger sharks use our deep seas. Don't miss TIGER SHARK KING, Friday, August 14 at 10P ET on Discovery.

A 300 Million Year Old Shark Skull Was Discovered Inside Kentucky Cave

Paleontologists have now found and identified the fossilized remains of around 150 individual sharks from between 15 and 20 different species buried in the limestone layers of the cave.

Related To: